Don Edwards Literary Memorial

May 7, 2006

Virus and us

This nonsense is getting better the more I revise it, so here goes my best recent effort, LeRoy.


I am a legendary sleeper. If I can’t sleep, there is something seriously awry. One night my system was invaded by an alien. Asleep, comatose actually, I was unaware of this foreign incursion. As a result, I was slow in observing signs that my system was inhabited by a destructive stranger. Eventually, I knew, it was terminal, just a matter of time. God help me! This was serious stuff.

I had been thinking about invasions anyway. Invasion of privacy. Invasion of Iraq. The pending invasion of Iran? The disquieting ideas in my dreams had been provoked by watching CNN hosting Alberto Gonzalez, our nation’s Attorney General, the appointed defender of truth, justice and the American way, while I brushed my teeth. He was discussing the validity of indefinitely incarcerating people without representation. In effect he was echoing John Ashcroft’s earlier pronouncements. He said that he found it very inconvenient that we had a Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and Congress said he could do whatever he wanted to do if he wanted to. As it turns out, I am a very big advocate of the Fourth Amendment, so when I awoke from my troubled dreams, much like the hero of Franz Kafka’s story, “The Metamorphous,” I had to deal with my invasion.

Poor Melvin. Melvin is my beloved computer.

He is my cybernetic child, a splendidly crafted invention from various parts, with amazing capabilities, software purchased, software downloaded from freeware, hardware items such as scanners, backup devices. Generally, let it suffice to say, we get along nicely. He gives me information, corrects my inevitable spelling mistakes and comforts me when my wife is mad at me. In return I feed him data, put splendid video graphic tools in his voracious innards, pamper him with sweet techie stuff available on the Internet… short, we are very compatible. I am proud of the fact Melvin is a computer beast and to the extent man and machine can be friends, Melvin and I hang out a lot. I would like to think he likes me, but that is hard to say.

The alien I mentioned was a virus named after Ulysses’ strategy to win the battle of Troy, a “Trojan Horse.” It was a new one, this Trojan, and had the specific name: “The Da Vinci” virus. With all the publicity about the book, I found it interesting as well as a challenge. It snuck in while I was asleep, attached itself to the lower colon of my operating system, the accursed Windows XP. It attacked the central nervous system called the ‘Registry,’ the technology equivalent of human DNA. It made my computer sick. Very sick. Melvin had a parasite that was sucking the life blood from him. Melvin couldn’t tell me exactly what was wrong with him. When my children would whine and sneeze, puke, some symptoms I could deal with, I dealt with them…. but poor Melvin was just sitting there, virtual eyes glazed over so to speak.

I am by profession a computer doctor. My friend was ill….so I ran every diagnostic I could muster in the hope that I could make him well again. I took Melvin’s blood pressure, things like hard file fragmentation, CPU utilization, response time…and they seemed ok. I ran some other tests and there were no abnormalities found. And yet, he was still a very sick puppy, gradually slowing down, hard disk light flashing. I decided he needed the equivalent of an antibiotic so I looked for computer penicillin in the form of a virus scanning mechanism I found on the Internet called, “Pharohhkiller.”

It went down my computer’s gullet, looked all over its intestines, came out the….ahem….other end and reported several items it could fix. Alas, the fix didn’t fix my patient. It said that it was just a matter of time before my patient died and would transmit its disease to every other person it knew in the entire world. I knew Melvin knew a lot of other computer colleagues. A LOT of other computer friends. Some of his buddies’ owners were also my friends. If I couldn’t fix this, they might be enemies before long.

Well, in all modesty I am a very good computer doctor. I also took a one semester course in theology. Searching the Internet for advice, astonishingly I came upon a scriptural reference. I had to search my biblical memory. When did I read about a Pharaoh who made a difference? So I went to ancient Egypt, and read Exodus for the first time in many years. How did the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob get loose from the tyranny of Egyptian enslavement? Maybe a clue? So I went to the Source.

As it turns out, the Bible is actually a great resource in practical as well as spiritual matters. Don’t eat pigs is very good advice when trichinosis is going to happen because refrigeration is just about two thousand years off. Also there is a very good description in Exodus about how to deal with plagues. I’ve already described my computer plague.

How did Moses help me cure Melvin? Ok. If you are Pharaoh in ancient Egypt, you need slaves. If you are ‘The Chosen People’ you need freedom. Welcome Moses who, with God’s help and a few angels, persuades Pharaoh to let his people go. Plagues happened. Pestilences happened. At last, Pharaoh was forced to allow his slaves to go to the Red Sea and the rest is history. Pharaoh lost his slave population, catapulting his nation into bankruptcy because now he had to actually pay people to do what was heretofore free.

Enter Bill Gates, the modern day Pharaoh of Microsoft. The slaves, to paraphrase Walt Kelly;s Pogo, “is us.” The equivalent of freeing slaves is Linux. Linux is Moses, a complex, smart, very adaptable and, like Moses, more or less free. We slaves think we need Egypt, Microsoft’s Word, Excel, Windows…..we are held captive to the vagaries and capriciousness of Mr. Gate’s Egyptian building of his pyramids. He regularly releases bad pyramids, Windows in his case, and makes us pay for the upgrade that fixes the problems we bought. So he employs more slaves, programmers these days, to fix the damn pyramid. Our modern day Pharaoh employs angels who know plagues like the back of their hand. So as a professional computer doctor and amateur theologian, of course I study Microsoft, talk to their virus experts, talk computer scripture to their folks all the time.

So back to Melvin’s illnesses. I went to the gospels and Acts of the Apostles for insight, and I decided on a strategy of resurrection. Resurrection in the cyber sense is called “System Restore.” It is a kind of time machine. It can make my computer go back to some time in the past and be itself then. There is no biological equivalent as far as I know. Melvin was the equivalent of Lazarus. Jesus restored him to his former self, the poor guy probably stinking after several days of deterioration, but walking, well probably staggering, but more or less several days earlier when his corpse was still breathing. Did my computer resurrection work? Well, sort of.

Like any good doctor, having exhausted all known medical options, I went with a holistic approach. Melvin lay on my desk stubbornly resisting the technology equivalents of antibiotics, barely breathing. I had virus killers like Spybot, Norton Antivirus…antibiotics….so when one doesn’t work, we try another. But what if your body is allergic to them all? What if it is a smart virus that can mutate quicker than you can fix it with a serum of some sort like the measeles. What if there are angels doing mischief around your hard file and Intel chip?

So I called my favorite computer theologian, Joe, who happens to speak nine languages and lives in Manila. We talked in theotechnogibberish. Soon Melvin was singing again, well and bereft of plagues. Melvin was brought back from the grave, resurrected more or less….my Lazarus. He started speaking to me, of course in ones and zeros, new e-mails, important blogs. I was ecstatic. .Melvin was back, Melvin stopped stuttering, began to give me good information, sounded like he used to sound….one damn smart computer. Sometimes I have wondered if Melvin has a sense of humor, but…well technological theology is kind of complicated. Take my word for this.

Of course, after my Melvin arose, as it were, from his grave, I wanted to share it with my best buddy, Fred. So the next day I called him. He is a key guy who works for the Department of Homeland Security, has occasionally said some insightful and amusing things about Michael Chertoff and has very high security clearances. I figured he knew more about spying and viruses and stuff like that than anybody so I would have a good time trading stories with him. His doctorate in electrical engineering from Cal Tech made him a central person in the department and one damn good computer diagnostician.

We met at the Castle as usual, my favorite watering hole, and played some pool. After a few beers and several games of “look ahead eightball” where you have to predict and call your next shot we settled down. I went over my latest recovery success with Melvin, he talked about various virus alternatives. Finally I asked him a question that had been bugging me, having nothing really to do with Melvin.

“Fred, why do you think politicians and bureaucrats are so dishonest? I mean the Bush administration can’t possibly be serious. Can it?”

Fred looked around the bar carefully before he spoke. “The prevailing idea is that he can’t be that dumb. We think Bush has a virus. His family and all the insiders in the cabinet suspect it. Even his father. Barbara, is scared to death of him. It came, we think, from a computer. Maybe aliens. Who knows? We don’t have a clue how to get rid of it.”

“Come on, Fred,” I chastised, ordering more beers. “That sounds like pure science fiction. Melvin is one thing, but our president is entirely a different matter. He’s just plain dumb, as we say in the south, “dumb as a bag of hair,” and thinks Jesus speaks to him personally.”

Fred leaned over to me. He looked completely spooked.

“Promise you won’t say anything to anybody,” he whispered. “But we think he is possessed. It may have happened when he was at Yale. We went to Billy Graham, we’ve gone to two Popes, we’ve even gone to Pat Buchanan. They all think he has been invaded by demons, but they haven’t been able to exorcise them. Believe me, “holy water” doesn’t do it. John Paul thought Bush was so dumb he didn’t even try, but Benedict did. You can’t imagine the cloud of incense, the boatload of holy water, the deacons, the room full of cardinals, the weird chanting. Boy, you should have heard Bush wail when they dowsed him in the medieval oil vat brought out from Castel San Angelo in Rome. Pretty funny, actually,” he chortled, again looking cautiously around the bar.

Tiring of all this Bushology, I began to tell Fred how I exorcised the virus demon on my computer. He got very quiet. “What was the name of the virus?” he asked me.

“The ‘Da Vinci’ virus,” I whispered back, now very conspiratorial, complicit in something, hand palming close to his ear, looking around in my new paranoia.

“It was one tough son-of-a-bitch to fix, but I finally kicked its ass.”

I looked carefully at Fred. All the blood had drained from his face. “That’s what Pope Benedict said Bush had.” He got off his stool, staggered around for a moment and then turned to me. “Can you repeat your procedure exactly, I mean write it down?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered truthfully. “I did a lot of trial and error, but I finally nailed it. I needed Joe in Manila to help, so you might need to call him. But I can probably remember it.”

That night I sent the algorithms and procedures to Fred. He emailed “thanks,” but I didn’t see him again for several months. I guess he was pretty busy. I slept like a baby. Melvin was back as good as new. Resurrected. Smart.

The next morning, as I was brushing my teeth, half listening to CNN, Bush himself had apparently called a press conference. No press secretary. All by himself.

He began as usual with “My fellow Americans,” and I yawned.

Then he announced we were pulling out of Iraq, he was going to divert all the war funds to education and universal health care. He said he would restore all the holy places in Iraq. And he answered hard questions with the aplomb of a Harry Truman. He actually sounded like he was smart. I couldn’t believe it. I went over to the TV and sat down, toothbrush half out of my foaming mouth.

He looked the camera in the eye. No smirk. His only change of expression during the entire short speech was a genuine smile at one point.

“I want to inform the American people that I have fired my entire cabinet.

“Gonzalez is gonzo, (he smiled), and Janet Reno has graciously accepted the post. I have asked Senator Ted Kennedy to be my part time chief of staff to reorganize our entire approach to economics and he will talk to you in a few moments about a tax restructure which will bring us in line with our homeless, our sick, our elderly and our needs for the future.

“I have asked General Colin Powell to be my Secretary of State. Our new head of Homeland Security, Hillary Clinton, also obviously a part time job for the time being, will champion our need to take a new look at the whole concept of terrorism in proper balance with our Fourth Amendment and national health needs.

“FEMA is now a new organization reporting directly to me headed by Martha Stuart. My personal thanks to her for her help.”

“Thank you all, and God bless America.”

Holy shit, I thought. He sounds a whole lot like Melvin.

Filed under: DON POSTS — Don @ 6:19 pm

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